Becoming an effective storyteller

Shawna Baca
Shawna Baca

On International Women’s Day, I’m looking back at an interview I did with writer/filmmaker Shawna Baca. Baca’s production company, 4 Elements Entertainment, develops film and new media projects that target America’s growing multicultural audience.

I had asked Baca what an emerging writer needs in order to become an effective storyteller. “When I became a filmmaker,” Baca said, “I considered myself as a storyteller, not necessarily a writer. Even though I wrote my own material, what I gravitated to more than the material was the intention or purpose of the story and how we were all emotionally influenced by that story. I didn’t go to school for screenwriting but what I was good at was strumming up the creative imagination to sit around, make up stories in front of small audiences, mostly family and friends, that would engage and hook them in.”

knowing how to make that story breathe life is the magical part

Filmmaker Shawna Baca
Filmmaker Shawna Baca

For Baca, “… writing a good story is key but then knowing how to make that story breathe life is the magical part that makes each filmmaker unique in his or her own right. You can give ten filmmakers the same script and I guarantee you they will all have their own artistic value and uniqueness. No two films will be exactly alike when you add in color palettes, tones, editing, score, etc.”

“I have an urge to tell how our fellow humans live”

Dutch video journalist Ruud Elmendorp provides local coverage of events throughout East and South Africa for various European and United States news agencies.

In an interview I did with Ruud several years ago, he talked about giving a voice to the people of Africa.

One of his video stories features women picking through garbage in Nairobi. I wrote: “A woman uses a long stick to pick through garbage in a Nakuru dump site, west of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, where 800,000 people are crammed into a slum of densely packed tin shacks. Poverty, illness and crime are rampant. The woman, part of the Minyore Women’s Group, searches for discarded plastics and fabrics that can be crafted into sellable items. Any money earned goes to her children’s education.”

In his own words, “I listen to their stories, engage with them, learn from them, and then present their experiences to a world-wide audience.” he says, “I have an urge to tell how our fellow humans live, which conditions they endure, and how they survive.”

The role of a journalist, in many situations, is just that. Give people without a voice a chance to speak. “Present their experiences to a world-wide audience.”

Pre-visualizing Your Shoot

Veteran camera operator Georgia Packard learned pre-visualization from Ansel Adams. When Packard was a kid, she took summer classes with Adams. “Ansel Adams was such a wonderful mentor,” Packard says, “teaching me pre-visualization in his still photography. We would go out with a pin-hole ‘camera’ shoebox with only one exposure. I knew I had to get it right the first time! I walked around my subject looking high and low, moving far left and right before releasing the cap.”

“I still do that on my film sets,” she says.

Camera operator Georgia Packard
Camera operator Georgia Packard

Pre-visualize Your Characters

Great advice for writers too. When you put your character in a scene, pre-visualize. Walk around the scene in your mind. Move your character right and left, high and low. Your character is a boy, a high school freshman. He comes home from school one afternoon to find his grandfather lying on the floor, gasping for breath, suffering a heart attack. Walk around the boy. What POV are you using? Looking over his shoulder as he spies his grandfather? Are you seeing his face freeze in fear? Is the grandfather conscious? Does the boy try to talk to him? Does he scan the room for the house’s cordless phone? Does he pull his own mobile phone from his backpack? Does he spin around, hesitating, looking for help that isn’t there?

What does the boy say to the 911 operator? Speak confidently? Stammer? Does he say, “I’m not sure” as a first response to each of the operator’s questions? Is he on the floor next to his grandfather? Standing over him? What’s his stance?

Writers Can Learn from Filmmakers

Packard’s advice: “Never let anyone tell you how impossible it is. Don’t let anybody steal your dreams. If you are passionate about your craft, wanting nothing more than getting an opportunity to live your dream, go after it. I often appreciate these warnings of doom because they focus my resolve and I ‘prove them wrong’. You will never know if you can do it unless you do it. Don’t try, do.

Here’s the full interview with Georgia Packard.

Filmmaker Julie Dash

Check out Michon Boston’s inspiring interview with filmmaker Julie Dash for The Washington Post Magazine.

Filmmaker Julie Dash
Filmmaker Julie Dash

“I’m very comfortable being a black woman filmmaker. That’s my generation. … That’s who I am. There’s a rhythm, there’s a beat, there’s an aesthetic that’s been missing from mainstream media, and now it’s just coming to bear with Ava [DuVernay], Dee Rees [“Pariah”], Gina Prince-Bythewood[“Beyond the Lights”] — wonderful young filmmakers. We’re starting to feel the pulse is changing.”

Dash’s iconic film “Daughters of the Dust” is enjoying a revival since its initial 1991 release. Says Michon Boston: “In 1990, Dash arrived in Utah with a trailer and script about a story of an early-20th-century Gullah family preparing to leave rural life. (Gullahs are descended from enslaved Africans brought to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.) The tale’s narrator would be a yet-to-be-born child.”

“’What if an unborn child could come forward and help her parents sort out a problem in their marriage?’ Dash recalled saying back then. She left (the Sundance Institute in) Utah with partial funding from American Playhouse.”

Julie Dash is now teaching screenwriting and directing at Howard University. “’My students want to give voice to their generation, how their generation sees the world, and how they work through their issues and problems,’ she says. ‘My job is to listen and to guide them in technical issues of how they can go about presenting their voice best, but not to comment on anything of how they’re doing it. Because their goals are very different, as how they should be.’”

Guide them in finding their voice!

 

A Brazil Few People Know

“Most movies we present show a Brazil that few people know.”

Cecilia Queiroz
Cecilia Queiroz

Film festival curator and manager Cecilia Queiroz has exhibited more than 500 Brazilian films in global markets. Her responsibilities include organizing workshops, networking and pitching with professionals in the film industry at the festivals.

A country the size of Europe, Brazil has many cultural themes and story traditions that run through the films produced there. “We try,” says Queiroz, “to get out of the stereotype of mulatto, caipirinha drink, samba and soccer. Of course, many films have some of those elements, but the audience tends to be surprised. Our stories and documentaries unveil a modern, rural, technological, industrial, romantic, and humorous Brazil: five different countries in one Brazil. We aim to make our international audiences see Brazil with other eyes, stimulating their curiosity to consume our movies and purchase our products and services.

“We want to make BRAFFTv (an annual Brazilian film festival in Toronto) a window for our movies, music, crafts, for our natural and industrial wealth, and for the great opportunities for tourism, thus facilitating partnerships and business between countries.”

Queiroz says that comedy and drama are currently the most popular film genres in Brazil. Grants programs support the production of documentaries as well. “We present commercial and acclaimed films and directors, and also we open space for new talent. The domestic production in different genres and formats,” she says, “is growing every day and catches the attention of audiences.”

Director Marcelo Galvão and his film Buddies

Brazil’s film market has grown substantially in the last five or six years. “There are many financial incentives coming from tax waivers and grants in Brazil to produce films. With so much money available, the industry is growing and becoming specialized, generating income and both direct and indirect jobs.”

Productions and co-productions are encouraged by government agreements with different countries, says Queiroz. “However, the government does not invest in the distribution of these films at the same rate, which means that many of them do not reach the general public, ending up on the shelves of producers.”

Director Cao Hamburger and his film Xingu

“For twenty years production was almost nil; far from the 500 films (short and feature) annually produced today. In its annual report, Ancine – the regulator of cinema in Brazil – indicates that 127 features were screened in commercial movie theatres in Brazil in 2013, against 83 in 2012. Of these, not more than one third got over a thousand people, and more than two thirds did not reach 10,000 people. The 127 films released got from 100,000 to 499,000 spectators. Nine percent, or eleven films, had more than 500,000 people who bought tickets.

“From all the films produced, 20-30 % participated in festivals or entered the commercial TV and film circuit. Despite the mismatch between production and distribution,” Queiroz affirms, “our industry is hot and has real opportunities for the independent market.”

Suggested Films:

Here are several other filmmakers/films/actors Queiroz suggests are representative of the Brazilian film scene:

Director Vicente Amorim and his film Dirty Hearts

Director Renata Pinheiro and her Love, Plastic and Noise

The actor Selton Mello in The Clown

 

Want to view more Brazilian films? Take a look at www.brafftv.com.

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